Consumer Protection in China: Product Liability of E-commerce Platform Operators.

  • Ying Zhao

Student thesis: Master's Thesis


Although most B2C (business-to-consumer) transactions are completed through online platforms, consumers do not know that the platform operators will not be liable for defective products. If the sellers disappeared, the consumers would not get compensation for their damage. Platform operators usually could dodge liability by neatly tucking themselves between virtual space and laws governing the physical world. This situation is changing because consumer–seller interactions on a platform are influenced by, supervised by, and contribute to the platform operator's profit. The involvement of platform operators in transactions between sellers and consumers already goes beyond what intermediaries should do. Many scholars and regulators have called for more evaluation of the issue of consumer protection in relation to platform operators' product liability.

The E-commerce Law of the People’s Republic of China (E-commerce Law) was enforced on 1 January 2019. Article 38 of the E-commerce Law regulates the platform operators’ obligations and liabilities regarding product safety. Article 38 introduced two categories of obligations, namely the verification obligations and safety obligations. Consumers who suffered damage from the product purchased on the platform can seek compensation from the platform operator who breached one of its obligations under Article 38. This research aims to examine whether Article 38 is adequate to protect consumers.

The debate over Article 38 issues has not ended. Arguments centre primarily on the application of the corresponding liability stipulated in Article 38(2). Based on the literature review, 88 platform operators’ product liability cases trialled from 1 January 2019 to 31 December 2021 were collected and examined by this research. Through exploring the courts’ application of Article 38, it was found that Article 38 has uncertainty problems regarding what constitutes the two obligations of the platform operators and how they should perform the obligations properly. The uncertainty of the obligations results in the difficulty of determining platform operators’ product liability. This research argues that the present provision of Article 38 of the E-commerce Law, without clarifying the content of the obligations and how the platform operators fulfil their obligations, would not adequately protect consumers. This research concludes with recommendations to improve existing issues for improving consumer protection.
Date of Award2022
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorVai Io Lo (Supervisor) & Umair Ghori (Supervisor)

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